Geophysics in the affairs of mankind

This illustrated history spans exploration, academia and wartime geophysics. From plate tectonics, through vibrator technology, the interpretation workstation to business intrigue, the 400 page book is a must-have.

Although the subtitle modestly claims that the book is a ‘history of exploration geophysics’ it is much more; the 400 page, well-illustrated tome encompasses submarine warfare, crustal seismology (discovery of the earth’s metal core in 1910) and nuclear test detection (author Bates’ field).

Plate tectonics

There is also detailed coverage of plate tectonics, with a blow-by-blow account of the ‘isolated observations’ leading up to the concept. Coverage of exploration seismology is exhaustive, from Eckhardt’s three trace recorder in 1919, to PGS’ multi-cable Ramform. The battlefield is omnipresent. Ludger Mintrop, founder of Seismos (later to bekome Prakla-Seismos, and later still part of the Schlumberger group) started out by modifying military gear to develop ‘a method for the determination of rock structures.’ The essence of the book is almost an exact reversal of the title. It’s really about people in the affairs of geophysics. The narrative weaves its way around personal histories. and is full of rich anecdotes such as Harry Mayne’s account of the invention of CDP, Carl Savit’s premonition of the bright spot in 1965 and John Crawford’s invention of VibroSeis. The habit of giving newborn babes the unusual name of ‘Géophysique,’ following the passage of CGG’s African prospectors is explained in a footnote.


There is intrigue too - De Golyer went against his Amerada bosses to secretly finance startup GSI, the Schlumberger brothers received cash from their dad, in exchange for a non-compete agreement, and later, Halliburton unceremoniously dumped its geophysics unit in 1994, before buying back into the game with Landmark.


Given the book’s scope, there are inevitable lacunae. Coverage of processing is skimpy - no mention of Dirac or deconvolution, although the MIT GAG gets good narrative treatment. The fascinating pre-numerical LaserScan seismic processing technique and Geco’s Charisma seismic interpretation system are overlooked.


Last niggles are an incomplete index and what appears to be rather poor QC at the printers resulting in washed-out photos. There are some great pics though. Next time someone talks about environmental impact, show them the effects of a (1929) 225 kg dynamite shot in coastal Louisiana. ‘Build not buy’ nostalgics should check out Phillips’ magnificent 1957 processing center - those were the days!

Geophysics in the Affairs of Mankind. Lawyer, Bates and Rice. ISBN 1-56080-087-9.SEG 2001.

Lee Lawyer and Charles Bates discuss their new book with PDM

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